Words from Friends

“Now more than ever, we need Jews, Palestinians, and indeed human beings generally who speak clearly about the need to create peace in the Middle East, and the ways to build understanding and friendship between the Jewish and Arab peoples. Michael and Alaa do not address this challenges as a theoretical issue, but as a living imperative in our everyday lives. Through wise words and incredible music they show us the very path ahead that seems to elude politicians and diplomats these days. There are few people I’ve met who have touched my life the same way that these two and the great people they work with have done. They deserve a wide, global audience.” -Dr. Henrik Syse, Senior Research Fellow at Peace Research Institute Oslo, Member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee

“Michael Ochs and Alaa Ali are like expert lapidaries, with great knowledge of unearthing the ordinary and revealing the diamond within. These two friends make music, but so much more. They are builders of hope. The hope that Israeli and Palestinian can live side-by-side. The hope that Jew and Muslim can live side-by-side. And ultimately, the hope that all of humankind will finally learn to do same.”  Read All Of Rabbi Dreskin’s Remarks  – Rabbi Billy Dreskin, Woodlands Community Temple (White Plains, New York)

“It is truly an amazing display of courage and talent for Alaa and Michael to take on the world with all its challenges, and perform with such grace sharing a much needed personal message of hope. Their music brought our community together.  We put our differences aside as we were inspired to continue to work for a day where we can be a part of a more peaceful world.”-Daoud Abudiab, President of Our Muslim Neighbors

“At Glastonbury Abbey, our goal is to open walls and break barriers to understanding. Who better to help us achieve that than The Pursuit of Harmony? Last night, Michael Hunter Ochs and Alaa Alshaham showed us that hope is not hopeless and that change is not impossible. We gathered under their bright wings to rise and soar together on a cloud of inspiration, and we left with a desire and a commitment to change. Hurrah to them both –  with deep thanks.” Fr. Timothy Joyce, on behalf of the Benedictine Monks of Glastonbury Abbey, Hingham, MA, November 18, 2016

“On MLK Shabbat, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015 members of Fairmount Temple, in a joint service with Trinity Episcopal Cathedral remembered the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a way never before experienced on the bimah.  Alaa Alshaham, a Palestinian Muslim, and Michael Hunter Ochs, an American Jew who perform together as The Pursuit of Harmony sang in both Hebrew, Arabic and English. They sang what Martin Luther King preached:  respect and understanding between people of different races, ethnicities and religions.

Alshaham and Ochs promote a spirit of unity.  Their two cultures meet in music that gives a new voice to the ancient prayers. Ochs and Alshaham chant in a way that proves the power of prayer regardless of the language in which it is sung.  They model a partnership that nurtures respect and congeniality between two artists with divergent histories. Dr. King would have approved.” –Rabbi Rob Nosanchuk and Rabbi Josh Caruso, Fairmont Temple (Cleveland, Ohio)

“Michael and Alaa are a wonderful reminder of the power of one-on-one relationships in creating more harmony in our divided world.  Through the story of their friendship and beautiful original music, they bring the audience along on an inspiring journey of mutual understanding and hope.  They are talented musicians who share an important message through original compositions, which are accessible and inspiring.” Cantor Vicky Glikin, Temple Emanu-El (Dallas, Texas)

“Your gifts are more than that of poets, musicians or academics, you are the synthesis of Passionate teachers and proponents of peace who brought the values of your mission to strangers in a powerful artistic way that changed hearts. That is truly the goal of both great art and great education.”-Cantor Scott Simon (Temple Chai, Chicago, Illinois)

“Michael and Alaa are extraordinary leaders of our people! I say ‘our’ because the sheer (Hebrew for ‘song’-שיר) power of their friendship, courage, and love strips away all separateness. They not only affirm the fact that the fate of the Jewish and Palestinian people are intertwined; their music, words, and images cause us to feel how blessed we are that this is so. Alaa and Michael are angels, sent by God to inform us of the extraordinary opportunity we have to experience beauty, joy, and love together in the pursuit of Harmony.” -Richard Schwartz, Shining Light Concerts and Cantor at Temple Beth David, Los Angeles

“In the midst of an often tense and tension-filled region like the Middle East, which often pitches Jews and Arabs of opposite sides of a contentious and challenging dialogue…the music composed and chanted by Michael and Alaa is a true gift of hope, and a true respite from despair. It forms a bridge of peaceful optimism, and a pathway to a more peaceful coexistence, that words alone cannot accomplish nor convey.

While their harmony is not a panacea, their rhythms soothe the collective souls of both peoples, and of all who are concerned about a better life for those of future generations. In that sense, they create a truly welcome sanctuary of the soul and the spirit, and their voices combine in a prayer for a far more hopeful sense of what could be. They are a treasure to all who resonate to such hopes and dreams…” -Rabbi Mark Schiftan, The Temple (Nashville, TN)

“Your delivery was excellent and very engaging.  Michael’s and Alaa’s presentation was moving and inspiring. I also share the desperation that the cycle of violence will never end as it’s always a tooth for a tooth. However the message and presence of coexistence that Michael and Alaa presented has to overcome all others, and your presentation has pushed that thought forward in my mind.” -Faris Eid, President, Entrepreneur Organization, East Tennessee Chapter

“Michael and Alaa brought passion, insight and frank conversation to our Sanctuary. Congregants of all ages were inspired to see these two creating music in partnership and moved by Alaa’s willingness to share his story in a Jewish setting. Our weekend spent ‘In Pursuit of Harmony,’ is not one we will soon forget.”  -Rabbi Mara Nathan, Temple Beth-El (San Antonio, Texas)

“Our congregation recently had the pleasure of having Michael Ochs and Alaa Alshalam, better known as The Pursuit Of Harmony, lead our morning worship service.  Their music and, indeed, their living witness to peace is an inspiration for any person of faith.  I highly recommend them to your faith community.”   Dr. Jim Hughes, Forest Hills United Methodist Church

“Rarely does one have the opportunity to work with an incredible artistic talent who proves to be an even better person. But, that is exactly the experience we in the College of the Arts experienced when Michael Ochs came to Columbus to perform with Israeli recording artist Aya Korem. Not only did Michael and Aya bring big smiles to their audience, but their visit to one of our communication classes inspired a group of young people to learn more about their craft and the world in which they can make a difference in the lives of others. Thanks Michael and Aya for enriching our lives having met you,” Dr. Richard Baxter, Dean of the College of the Arts, Columbus State University.– Dr. Richard Baxter, Dean of College Of The Arts, Columbus State University, Columbus GA

“The work of Alaa and Michael is more important today, when the Middle East is in awash with hate across religious divides, than ever before. If we wish to defend our hope to be able to live side by side, we needpeople like Michael and Alaa, who will get up and take action to reclaim the meaning of peace. Peace is not a dirty word, it is hard work. And with the Pursuit of Harmony, the music of hard work never sounded so good. If each of us were to take example from these extraordinary people- whom I’m honored to call my friends, we would change the reality, and save our future.” – George Deek, Israeli Deputy Ambassador

“Michael Ochs is a unique person, songwriter and artist. He has on different occasions contributed in our church, and though he has another faith-background than us, he has been a great blessing for us and given us new perspectives. He is interested, culturally sensitive and open and I can warmly recommend Michael.” – Pastor Erik Andreassen, Oslo Covenant Church, Norway

“The students, our congregants, and the wider community were all energized and inspired by all you had to share — so generously — with us. I pray that you will both go from strength to strength in bringing your crucial message to the hearts, minds, and souls of every individual whom you have the opportunity to touch. -Cantor Sarah Sager, Fairmont Temple, Cleveland, OH

“Welcoming Michael and Alaa to our school to perform and share their reflections was an inspirational moment for our students. I hope and pray that our political leaders will figure out how to make peace some day, but when they do, it will no doubt have been helped along by people like Michael, Alaa and the rest of My Favorite Enemy figuring out how to make music together. Their human to human connection was palpable, and after all, if you can;t make music together, how can you make peace?” – Rabbi Harry Pell, Rabbi in Residence, Solomon Schechter School of Westchester

“The Pursuit of Harmony program taught me that a sense of peace and consolidation with those who might otherwise be considered sworn ethnic enemies is just as essential. Ochs’ program made me optimistic, it made me excited to grow up in this time period by showing me that peace can be made, has been made, and will be made through he collective effort of every nation, and this starts with a single person.” -John Holder, Confirmation Student at Congregation Micah, Nashville, TN

“I cannot begin to tell you and Alaa how important it is what both of you are doing. Though I am neither a musician or a composer, I have a deep appreciation for the incredible impact music can have on one’s emotions and psyche.  Having said that, the music that you create and perform is only one part of what you are doing.  The other part–and in my opinion, the most important part, is that the two of you are linking your humanity with one another and this, to me, is the real beauty of what you are doing.  You bring not only a message of hope, but a very tangible example of what success looks like–the success of sharing, mutual respect, and creating the unique “music” that derives from the recognition of equality that binds us together. In light of the failures of world leaders, politicians, and their representatives, you and Alaa are out there demonstrating what the realization of a vision actually looks like. – Robert L., Attended Event in NYC

“Being in the room when Michael and Alaa are singing is to truly experience a glimpse of the world as it could be; a world of peace and harmony. I felt moved to sing and to pray in such a unique way and was filled with the understanding that music is truly the language through which we can discuss our differences.” – Cantor Shayna De Lowe, Rodeph Sholom, New York City

This is what peace looks like. This was one of the best services I have ever attended and busted the prejudices about Palestinians I didn’t even know I had. Thank you Temple Shir Shalom of Oviedo for hosting such an eye-opening program. – Hannah Schafer, 16, attended event in Orlando, FL

“Michael’s sprit and passion moved us, his words helped us see a different perspective and appreciate the diversity of this world. Our community will be forever impacted by Michael Ochs and his work. Worshiping with Michael brought a renewed sense of meaning to our prayer and made for an exciting and spiritual experience. I really appreciated the pointers Michael gave me while preparing for Shabbat services, it was great to have someone in the room who could tell me how to be better at what I do.” – Rabbi Josh Winston, Temple Beth David, Chesire, CT

“Our erev Shabbat service with Michael Ochs was transformative, fresh, and unforgettable! Our congregants have not stopped raving about his stirring music, unassuming- yet powerful presence, and wonderful voice! I look forward to incorporating some of his music into our weekly Shabbat worship and eagerly anticipate to the opportunity to work with him again!” – Cantor Deborah Numark, The Temple, Atlanta GA

“Michael shared the bimah with us one Friday evening. He brought heart, wisdom and humor to every piece of music he played. And gobs of talent too, of course. By the time we wished one another, “Shabbat shalom,” our community was soaring.” – Rabbi Billy Dreskin Woodland Community Temple, White Plains, New York

“…simply the most powerful and spiritual Shabbat I have EVER had the privilege to be a part of…” – Cantor Kerry Ben David, Scarsdale Synagogue (Scarsdale, NY)

“I actually cried – sitting in synagogue listening to a Muslim man from the West Bank singing a Jewish prayer in Arabic with full-throated joy, in friendship with a Jewish man singing the same prayer in Hebrew, welcomed fully by the congregation’s participation. Who would have thought such a thing could happen? If peace can be had, surely your music, your message, and your example will be one of the routes through which it will come. Thank you for for bringing us into your world through your stories, for the beauty of your music and your message, and, of course, for making us laugh with excellent jokes!” – Carol, Woodlands Community Temple

“It was an honor to host Michael and Alaa at our congregation – to make music with them and join them in prayer. I and my entire congregation were inspired by their story, and moved by their synergy. It was the perfect blend of artistry, humanity, joy and hope that made us feel God’s presence.” – Beth Schafer, Jewish Recording Artist, Temple Shir Shalom (Orlando, FL)

“Michael Ochs is that unique combination of creative modernity and love of tradition. His music draws people together, whatever their background or perspective, faith or ideology. His personal approach is revisioning our Jewish liturgy in an energizing and uplifting way accessible for all! Wherever he visits, happy and inspired people remain.” – Rabbi Kenneth Kanter, Director of Rabbinical School, Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, OH